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Israeli Innovation with Avi Jorisch
Episode 2018th November 2021 • Conversation with the Rabbi • Rabbi Michael Beyo | PHX.fm
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Rabbi Michael Beyo talks with Avi Jorisch about Israeli innovators and technology companies that are solving global problems.

Avi Jorisch is a seasoned entrepreneur and the author of five books, including Thou Shalt Innovate: How Israeli Ingenuity Repairs the World (2018). A former official in the U.S. Departments of Treasury and Defense, Avi is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, a member at the Council on Foreign Relations and the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO). He is also the founder of IMS, a merchant processing company that works with clients nationwide. In the past two decades, Avi has lectured around the world and has published articles in nearly 50 influential outlets, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Foreign Affairs, and has appeared on CNN, CSPAN, Fox News, MSNBC and the 700 club. Meet him online at https://avijorisch.com/

Conversation with the Rabbi is a project of the East Valley Jewish Community Center, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, neighborhood organization that has served individuals and families inclusive of all races, religions, and cultures since 1972. Visit us online at https://www.evjcc.org

The Conversation with the Rabbi podcast is supported by a grant from Arizona Humanities, National Endowment for the Humanities, and the federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act.

The show is recorded and produced in the studio of PHX.fm, the leading independent B2B podcast network in Phoenix, Arizona. Learn more at https://phx.fm

Transcripts

Announcer:

From PHX.fm, this is Conversation with the Rabbi, featuring open, honest dialogue, and sometimes unconventional perspectives on the world we all share.

Adrian McIntyre:

Welcome to another Conversation with the Rabbi. I'm Adrian McIntyre. We're joined for today's show by Avi Jorisch. He's the author of Thou Shalt Innovate: How Israeli Ingenuity Repairs the World. The book was published in 2018. He's also a senior fellow with the American Foreign Policy Council. And our host for this conversation of course is Rabbi Michael Beyo, CEO of the East Valley JCC. Hi Rabbi. Hi Avi.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Hey, Adrian. How are you? Avi, thank you so much for joining us. It's been such a long time since we actually saw each other in person. So I'm very glad that you had the time to join us in this Conversation with the Rabbi. How are you?

Avi Jorisch:

I'm great. The pleasure is mine. I'm sorry that I have to see you virtually and can't give you a hug in person.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Yeah.

Avi Jorisch:

We'll have to continue this conversation. Next time I come out to Arizona one on one.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely.

Adrian McIntyre:

Avi, your book is an important contribution to the conversation around technology and innovation. And you're bringing a very particular thrust to the story, which is your goal here is to talk about the global benefits that Israeli innovators and technology companies have made. What gave you the idea for this book? Give us a bit of the background on your work and what led you to making this case to the world.

Avi Jorisch:

So traditionally I was trained as a Middle East scholar. I lived in Cairo for a long time. I did my graduate work at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Islamic History and Arabic. After that, I worked at the Department of Defense and the Department of Treasury dealing with issues relating to radical Islam, money laundering, Iran and sanctions. That's classically where I'm trained. And my veer into Israeli technology began in the summer of 2014. As many of your listeners will recall, there was a war that took place in Israel that summer. And I ... Covid permitting, up until now, I've spent every summer with my kids in Israel. And we arrived at the beginning of July as we do every summer. And I went to enroll my youngest child at the time, he was a year and a half. He was a year and a half years old. And I went enroll him at a day school. And the owner of the day school said to me, Mr. Jorisch, what are you doing here? She looked very surprised, even though we had coordinated his attendance over the course of many months. I said, I'm here to enroll my child at your preschool. And she said, haven't you heard? There's a war that's about to break out between Israel and Hamas. You want to go home to America where it's nice and safe. And my response to her was equally perplexed. I looked at her as if she had grown a third ear. I said, I'm here to enroll my child at your school. No one's going to steal my child's birthright, not Hamas, not anyone. Please enroll him in your school, and she did so. And a few days later, I heard the most horrible noise a parent could possibly hear. It was the sound of the code red heralding the beginning of war. And I looked at my sleeping child in the backseat of the car and really felt nauseous, because I knew exactly what was coming. I drove home and we did tummy time and we did story time and I put my child to bed and I waited patiently. And sure enough, three hours later, the sirens wailed, heralding the beginning of war. And I took my terrified toddler down four flights of stairs, and I huddled with the rest of neighbors in a bomb shelter. And I should say that my neighbors looked more terrified than my toddler. And 10 minutes later, our building shook violently, and Rabbi Beyo knows very well what that sound was. That was the sound of history being made. That was the sound of the Iron Dome knocking out a missile that was fired from Gaza and heralding its way towards Jerusalem. And after 10 minutes, when this missile went up and another one from the Iron dome went up to meet it, the fireworks were over. Up until that point in time, we'd only seen that sort of imagery in movies, Star Wars. This was the sound of history being made. And that scene repeated itself over the course of the summer. My family and I kept on going in and out of bomb shelters. And I have to tell you, it was one of the most depressing summers of my life. On the one hand you had ISIS that was beheading journalists, including a friend from graduate school. In Iraq and in Syria, you had Hezbollah in Lebanon, which had a vice grip over the country. And then you had terrorists running around the Sinai Peninsula, and obviously Hamas shooting rockets and building tunnels. But on the other hand, I began to realize slowly but surely that Israeli technology was improving the lives of not only millions of people, but billions of people around the world in the realms of medicine, science, agriculture, water. And I almost by chance, happenstance, stumbled upon that story. Now I've spent many years of my life living in Israel. Thankfully, there's a direct flight from Washington DC to Tel Aviv, but this was not a story that I was really intimately familiar with despite the fact that I had spent years of my life over there. And I knew after that summer that this was a story that I needed to get to the bottom of. How is it possible that a country the size of New Jersey is producing more startups combined than Canada, India, Japan, Korea, and the United Kingdom combined? How is it possible that a country the size of New Jersey is having an outsized impact on curing the sick, feeding the hungry, helping the needy? So my journey began and I interviewed hundreds of innovators, those that are involved in private equity, venture capital, professors, rabbis, to really elucidate to me, what is the secret sauce? How is it possible that Israel's producing all this technology, and what is the bottom line story? And I collected for this book, 15 inspiring stories of innovations that were, as I said, having an outsize impact on making the world a better place and engaging in something called tikkun olam, the idea of repairing the world. And at first I started collecting these stories because they were inspiring to me. And then I realized these are stories that I think will inspire others. And frankly, these are stories that are addressing what I like to call grand global challenges. Over the course of the next 15, 20 years, the world is going to fundamentally be a different place. And we, as humanity are going to face massive, massive challenges, food security, water security, energy, poverty, education. And I challenge you to look at any of the big challenges facing the planet earth over the course of the next 20 years. And you will find an Israeli really trying to solve those challenges. And those are the challenges that I addressed in my book, and that inspired me, inspire my children, and now inspiring readers, as of this week, in 27 languages. And by the end of 2021, 41 at least. Rabbi Beyo played a key role in having my book translated into Italiano, the country of his birth. And that book has done well so far in Italy, as it has in many other languages. And it always surprises me that the book is not only being translated into so many languages, but that people around the world are crying out for more inspiring stories that not only make them feel good, but that are fundamentally ... we're seeing the planet earth change. And Israeli technology is making the world a better place. This is not a depressing book. This is a book that I hope will inspire your listeners to really engage on their own journey of what can I do? I hope that every reader asks themselves the fundamental question, what can I do to make the world a better place? Just as these innovators have asked themselves and have now had an outsized impact.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Avi, I've heard you tell this story ... I think this is the third time maybe I hear you say how you got to it. And it's always fascinating for me the passion that you put into this. It's wonderful. I am a very passionate person and I love to see passion in other people. I grew up in Italy, as you said, and as people know, and I grew up in Italy in an environment that was antisemitic. I remember walking down the streets, seeing swastikas equal the Star of David. I remember seeing graffiti on the wall saying, Hitler should have killed you all, or go back to Palestine, or go back ... whatever, all kinds of antisemitic writings. And also I had my own fair share of antisemitic physical encounters. And so I grew up with this thought and it was instilled in me by my parents, that we are surrounded by antisemites. Every non-Jew is at its core an antisemite. And now I'm flipping this onto you and you have translated the book in 27 languages. Hopefully you says it's going to reach 41. I presume that the overwhelming majority of your readers are not Jewish. And so has the world changed? Are we facing one of the times in history where most people in the world are not antisemites anymore?

Avi Jorisch:

You know Rabbi Beyo, I think we have nine billion people on the planet today. And I would not venture to guess how many of them are, put mildly, not fans of our people. What I will say is that we, as the Jewish people have been waiting for this moment for 2000 years. Now, as part of the National Anthem of Israel, it's enshrined [foreign language]. The hope has been around for 2000 years, and the Jewish people have been waiting for this moment too. Our most sublime hope is to repair the world and make the world a better place. Now, any of your listeners that have been to Israel know that it is not a paradise. It has problems like every other country, problems between the very rich and the very poor, problems with its neighbors, problems with resource scarcity. When Ben Gurion stood at the lectern 72 years ago, he said the following, he said two things. One, all members of the Jewish faith after 2000 years are welcome to come home, the doors are officially open. And that truly is a [foreign language] moment. That is a moment that I think that we ought to celebrate deep in our cores, since we've been praying and hoping for this for many, many years. The second thing that he said was Israel's been granted the great privilege and the obligation to tackle some of the greatest challenges of the 20th century. What he seemed to be saying at the very core, the most sublime hope of the state of Israel was not only enrich and protect its own citizens, but to go beyond the borders of the state of Israel and make the world a better place. And Israel is doing that today through technology. And so to your question, we're seeing, I believe today, an inflection point where Israel is leveraging its best asset or one of its best assets, technology, in an effort to cure the sick, feed the hungry, and help the needy. And the world rewards countries that innovate. And I have been saying for a long time, for many, many years. In fact, when we met at Palo Alto, this was one of the things I said at the panel. I said that we are going to see in my opinion, the most verdant, peaceful, extraordinary decade that humanity's ever seen. And at the time I predicted that Israel would start making peace with its Arab neighbors. And we are seeing today, Israel over the last few months, striking peace agreements with Morocco, with Sudan, with Bahrain and UAE. And the reason that is happening is because Israel is solving these amazing, grand global challenges. They are solving challenges that are afflicting the Middle East and humanity around us. And so ultimately when the world sees that we have these massive, grand global challenges and that you have a small country that is helping solve and address those challenges, there is an outcry to continue dialogue and to import that technology to their own countries. Let's take a few examples. I'd love to talk about water. Israel is a country that is 60% desert. And despite that, Israel is the only self-declared water superpower in the world today. It has more water than it knows what to do with it. It is not dependent on its neighbors or the weather for its water consumption anymore. And I tell this story in the book, and essentially Israel's managed to declare water independence as a result of leveraging a few different innovations. Some of which were created in Israel, others that were created outside of the country. The first is desalination. Desalination takes water from the ocean and turns it into sweet drinking water. Israel did not create reverse osmosis. It was actually created by a man by the name of Sidney Loeb in California in the early 1960s, but Sidney Loeb perfect that two years later when he made aliyah at Ben Gurion University. That today is the gold standard for desalination. Israel has five desalination plants in the country, which provides over 50% of the potable of the drinking water needs of the population. That is interesting in and of itself. But where Israel has gone above and beyond, Israel has now created over 400 desalination plants in 40 countries around the world, including the largest desalination plant in the Western hemisphere in California, the largest desalination plant in China. And it manages the largest desalination plant built and manages in India. The second is drip irrigation, which is something that you are very familiar with in Arizona. Drip irrigation was created by Simcha Blass in the mid-1960s. For those listeners that are not aware, it is these small plastic tubes that emit a micro amount of water, drip, drip, drip, and it doubles the yield by only using a third of the water. And that technology today, leaving aside all of you gardener listeners, is used by over a billion farmers around the world. Third innovation that I like to talk about is recycling of waste water. When we go to our toilets here in the United States, we tend to think of our sewage as being disgusting and gross. In Israel, not so much. In the U.S., we flush our toilets, the water's cleaned by our water authorities, it's cleaned twice. And then we dump it back into our rivers and into our oceans. In Israel, the water is cleaned five times. Technically, you could drink that water, but the idea of drinking sewage water is a little disgusting, so Israel doesn't do it. You could drink that water, and 90% of that water is used for agricultural purposes. The last one I'll talk about today is the two button toilet, which is ever present in Israel, button one, button two, number one, number two. And as a result of those four innovations, Israel's a water superpower. Now to answer your question, let's take the countries around Israel. They're experiencing massive water shortages. Egypt, a country that I lived in, today has 100 million people. The year is 2021 today. In four years, Egypt is going to experience a water problem of biblical proportions, unless it changes its tune. It's going to run out of water. Iran, a country that we've talked about, me and you, multiple times, a country of 80 million people and a country that points its missiles at Israel today. In the next 10 to 15 years, over 50% of its population are going to turn into water refugees. That same trend line holds true from large parts of Europe, the Middle East, and even the United States. 40 out of our 50 U.S. states are going to experience massive water shortages over the course of the next 10 years. Now, Israel has solved this particular problem. And I predict that countries like Egypt are not going to necessarily experience a water problem of biblical proportions as a result of Israeli know-how, and as a result of Israeli technology. The same thing in California and other parts of the United States and Europe. And so ultimately the world is looking to Israel to solve some of the greatest challenges, including for example, Corona. Everyone was saying, who is going to be the first country to come up with a vaccine for Corona? The truth of the matter is Israel didn't ultimately do that. But what I found the most interesting was that 72 years after it was born, after it came into existence, people were predicting that the startup nation, a country that 72 years ago couldn't rub two pennies together, was going to create the vaccine to Corona. And that, I think is very, very telling. And ultimately, the image of Israel I already see is changing and will continue to change among those that have traditionally not been Israel's largest advocates. And ultimately I think the world is going to see a smaller number of antisemites. I don't know that antisemitism will ever go away, and that will be an ongoing challenge for our people and the state of Israel. But I am seeing that the trend line going in the right direction as the world changes over the course of the next two decades. I believe that we are going in the right direction. And I believe that we are going to experience amazing changes that are going to impact deeply your children's lives and mine. And Israel will be at the forefront of that.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Thank you for sharing with us all of those amazing technologies. It is true, Israel is a very strange place because, and part of it I think is ... part of its success and challenges is because it's a place where people come to it from all over the world. And because it's an in gathering place of people with so diverse experiences coming in such a close proximity, you have, yes, challenges, but also, it creates dynamics that cannot exist anywhere else in the world. I think that in Israel you have immigrants from, what, 70 different countries or something like that? Everybody coming with their own cultures and all languages and all the history and all ways to look at things. And when you put them together, you create something new. And that is amazing. But I also believe, and I know that you share this with me, that is also entrenched in our specific history and culture of Judaism, that we shouldn't only do things for us. That we have a responsibility to us and the world and to our neighbors and to our friends and even to our enemies, that hopefully our enemies will become our friends. And I do know that you share with me that deep belief, that it's part of our religion and our culture. I would like to switch to something a little bit different. I remember in one of your talks that you shared with us a wonderful, wonderful story of a father educating his son. Can you share with us that story again? I remember it, so it means that he was important.

Avi Jorisch:

If you allow me, before I get to the story, I want to talk about, your remarks really were two part. First, I want to talk about really the secret sauce, I believe, in the state of Israel and our people. And then I'll meander over to the story. As a result of all the interviews that I've done, I believe that the secret sauce of Israel really rests on four principles. The first, as you rightfully point out, is diversity. Israel is one of the most diverse places on the planet, and not only of the Jewish people, but Muslims, Christians and Jews. You have Muslims of every stripe and every variety, Sunni, Shi'a, Circassian, Arab, Bedouin, really everything. You have Christians of every stripe and every variety, Catholics, Protestants, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox. And as you point out, you have Jews from all over the world. So I always like to say that diversity powers the Israeli technological ecosystem. The second is the idea of failure. Failure is built into the innovation process of Israel. In order to succeed, you must fail and must fail fast and often. And if you've not failed in Israel, people look at you as if you're a little odd, often will strike people as being arrogant, but often you're greatest strengths are also your greatest weaknesses. The third is the secular institutions that Israel has built in. And primarily you look at the military and you look at all but one of the Israeli universities, they're all secular. And so the secular values underpin Israeli society. And lastly, it's the prophetic tradition of the Jewish people. And I want to talk about that really in a cultural sense. In a cultural sense, you look at the stories of our people, and you realize that no less than 10 times in the Mishnah. One of the most important codified books about people, no less than 10 times, the Mishnah calls upon us to engage in something called tikkun olam, the idea of repairing the world. In the [foreign language] prayer that religious Jews have been praying three times a day for the last roughly 1500 years, 2000 years, it calls upon us to [foreign language], to repair the world in the image of God. The prophet Isaiah calls upon us all, all of us, no matter what your religion, to engage in bringing more light to the world. It's this idea of light that once you tap into this idea of light, that I think really sets you off on a very interesting way. On Saturday nights, when we separate the Sabbath from the rest of the week, the blessing that we make is the separation between the holiness and the mundane, and the separation between lightness and dark, between light and darkness. You can't repeat these words for 2000 years, repair the world, cure the sick, feed the hungry, help the needy, make the world a better place without that having a deep, cultural impact on the DNA of your people, and now the state of Israel. And we're seeing that today, and we're seeing that in the technology.

Avi Jorisch:

Now, to your question of the story, this story took place ... now, my oldest child is now 10, and I came home from work one evening and I could tell that something was wrong. The mother of my children gave me that look that all men are terrified of. And I knew immediately something was not kosher. And she looked at my then year old, and he was the one that came in briefly a few seconds ago and waved. At the time he he had told ... she said, tell your father what you've done. And no five year old is excited to tell his father what he's done at the time. And so she comes over to me and she whispers in my ear. She said, your son told a homeless person that he was a very bad man. Well, as a young father, and as the ... as I come from a family of Holocaust survivors, I thought of my grandparents. And I thought of all the innovators that I had interviewed from my book. And I asked my oldest son to get his shoes on and put his jacket on. We live in Washington, DC, and it was March. And it's quite cold in Washington and generally in March. And we got about halfway down the block and I sat down on the curb so that we could look at each other eye level. And I said, Aidan, why did you tell that homeless person that you're a bad man? And the truth of the matter is he didn't know the answer to that question. He just didn't know. And so I took a step further and very gently and asked quietly. I said, Aidan, was it because he was black? Was it because he was surrounded by plastic bags? Was it because he smelled like urine? Why? Why did you say that? Again, very quietly. He didn't know the answer to that question. So I took one more step. I said, Eden, what are the five rules that we have in the Irish home? Because in my home, there are only five rules. Well, the truth of the matter is we've added one in the last few years. And he all too happily, immediately told me the five rules. The first rule is be a mensch, not a vilde chaya. And for your listeners who don't speak Yiddish, to be a mensch literally means to be a good human being, and to be a vilde chaya means to be a wild animal. So rule number one, be a mensch, not a vilde chaya. And all five year olds know the difference between being a mensch and being a vilde chaya. Before Corona, I took my ... he's now a little older, but at the time he was three. I told him to visit my mother in Miami and we walked through the door. He opens the door and he says, Softa, I'm a mensch, not a vilde chaya. So all our children know the difference between being mensches and a vilde chaya. Rule number two, do your part to make the world a better place. Rule number three, try your hardest, rule number four, never, ever give up, and rule number five is try and have a good time. In the last few years, we've added one more rule. We've added your word is your bond, which I was also raised with, but not in the context of the five rules. I said, very good, Aidan. What do we do when we make a mistake? And he said, daddy, we do tzedakah. I said, that's right. Now, most of us here in the U.S. translate tzedakah into charity, but the truth of the matter is it means charity, but it also means something else. The root of the word [foreign language] is tzedek, which is justice. And in this particular instance, social justice. And so I said, great, here's what we're going to do. We're going to find that homeless person, you're going to shake their hand, look them in the eye, say, God bless you and keep you safe, and hand him a couple of dollars. Daddy, I can do that. We walked a few blocks and we found the individual that he had said this to. And he was actually in a group of three individuals. And Aidan, true to form, marched right up to him, shook his hand, looked him in the eye, said, God bless you and keep you safe, and handed him a couple dollars. Rabbi Beyo, you know what happened? There were very awkward moments of silence. He's looking at my kid, my kid's looking at him, either don't know what to do with themselves. They're just quiet. And you know what happened? This homeless man bear hugs my child. You're an angel. What a good little boy. They're high-fiving. They're smiling. You could tell this was the first human interaction these guys have had in a very, very long time. And after a few minutes, I thank them for their time and we walk away. And again, we walk away and I kneel down at the curb and I say, Aidan, what just happened here? Aidan thinks for a second. He says, "daddy, I made the world a better place and it feels good." And when I think about that story, and I think about the Jewish people, and I think about the state of Israel, I'm reminded that the world, according to our sages was built on three things [foreign language] The world is built on Torah, which technically translates into the Bible. But I like to think of it as a collection, as a wisdom tradition of values. And the Jewish people have an amazing set of values, but that's not exclusive to the Jewish people. That really is a universal human yearning. Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, et cetera had this yearning to make the world a better place and repair the world. The second is avoda, hard work. No one would have believed 72 years ago today that Israel would have more startups combined than Canada, India, Japan, Korean and the United Kingdom combined. No one would've believed it. And the lastly is the idea of [foreign language] the ideas of acts of charity and kindness. And Israel today is basically, as I said before, leveraging its best asset, tech, to go far beyond the borders of the state of Israel in order to make the world a better place. And I hope that your listeners will read the book, but ultimately, readers, the lesson I hope they will take away is the question other than what can I do to make the world a better place is to realize deep in their kishkas, deep in their soul, to realize you can look to the person to your left a person to your right, but ultimately the only people that are going to move the dial on the issues that we care about are us. We only control our actions. And we have the great privilege and the obligation, the words of Ben Gurion, now to tackle some of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. Now, I don't know if any of your listeners are going to create the next great startup or big tech company. That's not the point. Each of us has the ability to bring more light to the world, hold the door for someone, help an old lady cross the street, smile at someone else. It's all about bringing more light to the world and making it better. And each of us has the ability to do that day in and day out.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Avi, allow me to push back a little bit. You have spoken a lot about tikkun olam and the importance of tikkun olam and how tikkun olam is embedded within the Jewish tradition. And you have quoted and said that in the Mishnah, the concept of tikkun olam is mentioned 10 times, which is true, but is not mentioned in the context that normally we understand "social justice." It is mentioned in the context of legal documents, of marriage and divorce, nothing to do with social justice. You mentioned that another prayer, which is the central prayer on Rosh Hashanah, in the Amidah, and it is a prayer that is said the conclusion of the three daily prayers that we recite does mention the word, [foreign language] to repair the world. But that is, if you read it in context, also says that all humanity will bow to our God, that we're going to destroy the idols. So I'm not sure that you and I would agree with what ISIS did to destroy the Buddhas in Afghanistan. So we need to be very careful when we do a transfer of meaning in words. The way the tikkun olam, and many scholars also say that the tikkun olam in the [foreign language] it's not about repairing the world, but it's the [foreign language] to impose a world. So it's definitely not about social justice. So we need to be very careful when we take terms that were written thousands of years ago in completely different context. And then we transfer them and we give them modern meanings. I am not saying that social justice is not important. Social justice is important, but it seems to me that social justice has become for many Jews, the religion, Judaism. The concept of social justice has in a certain way replaced 2000 years of Jewish history, culture, traditions and everything. And that, in my opinion, is a tragedy and a travesty. When we have millions of Jews that know nothing about our own history, they know nothing about our own culture, know nothing and don't care about our own religion, tradition, et cetera, but they know about social justice. Now, social justice, with all due respect, is not a Jewish concept. It's a human concept. It's a universal, human concept. And to try to make it into a Jewish concept, dilutes Judaism and dilutes social justice. So I am not disagreeing with what you are saying, that it's important to do social justice, but I am pushing back when I hear, or when I think that I hear, that that is the core of Judaism or one of the pillars of Judaism. No, social justice is not the pillar of Judaism. Tikkun olam is not the pillar of Judaism, and at the same time, it's very important.

Avi Jorisch:

So I think me and you are going to disagree on a few key concepts, but first of all, I agree with you a thousand percent that tikkun olam and social justice is a universal human yearning. It's not exclusive to the Jewish people. And as a result, it becomes, in my opinion, a central tenet of Judaism and ultimately manifests itself through language, which we understand in different context over time. But this idea of bringing more light to the world and making the world a better place? You're a rabbi, okay, now allow me to push back. Why do you make blessings every single time before you eat, before you go to the bathroom, when you do Kiddush on Friday night? Why do you make blessings, Rabbi Beyo?

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Because I'm commanded to.

Avi Jorisch:

You are commanded to, but ultimately when you look at the story from the Kabbalah as to why the world was created, our job as human beings, if you look at the mystical tradition, it's a wonderful story that says that when the world was created, the creator of the world created the universe, sent ten perfect vessels to planet earth. And the vessels shattered with sparks being sent all over the world. And our job as humans is to find those sparks and make the world a better place. And the way we do that today is through blessings. Now, the reason ...

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Yeah, but don't get me started on Kabbalah. Let's not mix [foreign language]. Let's not mix Jewish mysticism with Judaism.

Avi Jorisch:

The reason you make these blessings is ultimately to bring more light to the world. And classically thinking is to hasten the coming of the end of days and the Messiah.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

But that's not for everybody. That's not my reason. My reason is because I am commanded: [foreign language] that God is commanding me to make the blessing. Now, you were mentioning mystical teachings about the ten vessels that were broken and all the sparks of holiness are in this world. And by us do in repairing the world. Yes, it's all good. It's all true. You can look it up in Kabbalah 101 on Wikipedia.

Avi Jorisch:

Or just go to Madonna, just have a mystical experience with Madonna. [laughter]

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Kabbalah Centre, yes, great. But that's not the Judaism that speaks to me.

Avi Jorisch:

It may not be the Judaism that speaks to you. First of all, there's no single narrative when it comes to Judaism and the state of Israel. There's lots of different narratives and things that will speak to you or not going to necessarily speak to anyone else. Here's what I will say about to your central point, which is that the next generation seemed to have replaced the idea of tikkun olam with all of Judaism. Point number one, I would say that this is an on ramp to connect the next generation with the state of Israel. There's no denying the fact that Israel is engaging in tikkun olam today. And it is repairing the world on some of the issues that are the most important to the next generation, including climate change and water and food, et cetera. This is one on ramp to bring the next generation of the Jewish people to connect.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

On that I completely agree.

Avi Jorisch:

And I truly believe that it is a central tenet of Judaism, and that part of the mitzvot ties us and commands us to make the world a better place and engage in social justice. And so that is the tie that I make in order to also buy in the next generation saying this is a quintessential Jewish value. And look, the next time I often say to people when I ... I do lectures all over the country and all over the world. And specifically with Jewish audiences, I look at them and the average age is generally, I'll be kind, 40, 45. Okay? And I often say to the people in the crowd, I say, look, I love you. I'm so glad that you are here, kisses and hugs, but the truth of the matters, I'm less interested in you and more interested in your children. The next time I come to your city, please bring your sons and your daughters. The next time you go to Israel, please, if you're a grandparent, bring your grandchildren. And I don't only want you to take them to the places that you normally take them to, the beach, to Masada, to the Kotel. Beautiful, amazing, but I also want you to them to places like the Weizmann Institute, the Technion, the headquarters of United Rescue, United Hatzalah, which is involved at saving lives and making the world a better place, because ultimately for too long, to your point, we have been educating the next generation of the Jewish people on a few messages. Number one, you must, really must ... one of the ways has been through Holocaust education. And frankly, as having come from a family of survivors, I don't think it's the most positive message to connect with.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

It's not.

Avi Jorisch:

And I say that ... I was raised by Holocaust survivors and so every day for me is Holocaust Remembrance Day. It's never far from my mind. And the second, when you look at images coming from Israel today with its Palestinian neighbors, whether they're on your left or the right, it's painful imagery. And so, one of the central tenets of Israel today is engaging in this repairing in the world. And so therefore, I look at the next generation, I say, this is a story that can find you in a positive way. And it's not just a good story, it's reality. And that's why I spent so much time talking about this particular issue.

Adrian McIntyre:

So let me interject here with a question which is going to be too big for us to answer in the remaining time. So it's unfair from the beginning, but it's been on my mind as I listen to you engage in this very productive dialogue. And it has to do, Avi, with the juxtaposition of two stories that you've shared in this conversation. You opened your discussion of the book with a “We and They” story about your experience of conflict in Israel, with Hamas being the “They,” and “We,” the ones taking shelter and so on. And of course, those of us who study and have lived through conflicts all over the world are familiar with the dynamics of these narratives. There's a way that they can be told by all sides, as a structure of a story. I'm really, really struck by the difference with the story you shared about you and your son and the encounter with the man on the street, in which a lot of the overlays of nationalism and identity and conflict were not there. And what was there instead was a direct human experience. Not that there wasn't difference and not that there wasn't inequality and a lot of other really large concepts being played out there. But the direct encounter between two human beings that you facilitated by encouraging your son to have that experience is also something that shapes us in a different way. So, circling back to your book. The framework for the book, and I haven't read it, so it's an injustice already for me to assess it this way, but the framework for the book is familiar. Because from the earliest days of the Yishuv, the idea of exceptionalism, essentialism, and a nascent nationalism have been there in a certain kind of literature. The idea that we are special and we are different is of course there, but then connecting this to a nationalist project that has resulted now in the state of Israel being in existence for 72 years creates this framework, right? So now here's my question. Do you need, for this mission you're on of sharing with the world how Israeli ingenuity is solving problems, do you need the framework of nationalism and us versus them? Or does it not, in fact, somehow connect you to something that's going to play out to be deeply problematic, because it works against the direct human transformations that you're committed to? This is an unfair and impossible question, but I'm curious to get your thoughts.

Avi Jorisch:

Let me see if I can do this in a succinct manner. Number one, I look at this technology as a bridge to individuals that you're not necessarily going to have an ongoing human encounter with. And many of the technologies, if not all the technologies featured in my book, are being used by Palestinians today. Even the Iron Dome, which I started by talking about, ironically, it's not an offensive weapon. It's a defensive weapon that I believe truly saves lives on both sides of the border, because it gives Israeli policy makers the time and the space to make decisions that would otherwise force them to send military into conflict immediately, number one. Number two, I will also say to you that there's no single narrative that fully captures the nationalist state of Israel, the national story of Israel today, but there's no denying the fact that Israel has amazing innovators that are bound not by religion, money or stature, but rather by a desire to make the world a better place. And that ultimately I believe is the bottom line, one of the bottom lines of the book today, or the stories that the book collectively tell. And then, Adrian, I'd like you to close your eyes and I want you to really think about where we're going to be in the next 10, 15, 20 years. And I'm going to paint a picture for you. By 2030, when you look at all futurists or many of the futurists, you just say, oh, but the trend lines seem to suggest that by 2030, we will have bases on the moon. Then we're on our way to Mars. We will be, by 2040, likely terraforming Mars. Your children and mine will be the first to experience a multi-planetary society. By 2030, big neurological diseases like Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, Tourette's, essential tremor seemingly are going to probably be solved. Solved, in other words, we'll find ways of no longer having that in our society. We will likely be completely on 100% renewable ... close to 100% renewable energy at that point in time. Virtual reality and reality? Indistinguishable from one another. The paradigms that you talk about are going to shift substantially in the years to come. We are slated to experience in the next 20 years, 25,000 years of human change. This little device that I'm holding here, we call this thing a smartphone. You remember when it came out, Adrian? What year?

Adrian McIntyre:

2007 was the iPhone.

Avi Jorisch:

Bingo. It came out in December 2007. Okay, that was 13 years ago. We can't imagine life without the smartphone. Can you imagine where we're going to be in 13 years? And so ultimately, the narrative that I'm trying to disseminate and the stories that I'm trying to tell are meant to essentially open people's eyes to the reality that we are facing today, the reality that we are hurling towards. And how do we ultimately make the world a better place? Israel is doing that today. You don't need the national story in order to make that happen. My next book that I'm working on is looking at technologies from all over the world that are doing the same thing, that are fundamentally solving the problem. But what I find compelling in this particular story is that how is it a country the size of New Jersey that has only been in existence for 72 years is playing an outsized impact? And interestingly, Israel is not the scaled nation. Israel is the start of nation. There are things that Israel does well, there are things that Israel less well. But where Israel really does shine is in its technologies that cure the sick, feed the hungry, help the needy. And that is where I see the most sublime hope of the Jewish people. That is not to suggest that other people don't have that. Michael, you said a little bit earlier, it's unique to Israel. I don't actually know that it's unique to Israel, but what I want to do is I want to celebrate those that are striving for this most sublime hope. This idea of how do we repair the world? How do we solve our grand global challenges? And Israel is doing that today. And that is not a story that I believe most people are aware of. It's certainly not many of the next generation that are increasing numbers, turning their back on Israel. And I believe we have this amazing opportunity to turn that around. And that the things that Israel are doing are really making an outsized impact. And that is not a story that the next generation for the most part is aware of. And I believe it is why the book has been translated into so many languages. I, myself am always surprised to get phone calls that we're interested in translating your book. I'll give you an example. This week, the book came out in Kannada. I have to admit, I didn't know there was a language of Kannada. The language of Kannada is the language of Bangalore, which is the Silicon Valley of India with over 70 million speakers. Blip on the screen, Kannada. And I keep on having these experiences with the languages I'm not familiar. Telugu, which is the language, again, of 70, 80 million people in India. It's been translated. So I'm always surprised at the languages that the book is coming out in. There is a thirst around the world for not only stories that make the world a better place, but these positive, inspiring stories that, yes, we have the great privilege, and I underscore that, the great privilege, and also the obligation to tackle some of the greatest challenges. And Israel is doing that today.

Adrian McIntyre:

I agree with you. And my thought, which is more of an ongoing thought for me in my own work, is to what extent are those of us committed to a future in which global problems are solved and the best solutions are given a real shot, regardless of where they come? I always say to people, we make the mistake of thinking the next Einstein's going to look like the last one. And instead of an old white guy, we need to be looking for a nine year old brown girl, because the artificial borders we've put on this world, the Treaty of Westphalia is not that old. The phenomenon of dividing up the earth into nation states is a fraction of our human history. And I wonder whether or not that's not holding us back when what we want is universal good, when what we want is justice. When what we want is problems to be solved by the best solutions, regardless of where they're from. Are we binding ourselves to these older frameworks, doing a disservice to this project, doing the disservice to this mission? Because nationalism and even the nation state on a global scale may play out to be something we have to let go of to get where that vision you have of interplanetary cooperation and all the rest. I'm for it. And I don't want us to have our foot nailed the ground in order to get there. That's where the question is coming from.

Avi Jorisch:

Humanity has changed significantly over time. And it's true that solutions that we have today will not get us to where we need to get. I tend to think ultimately that the framework of nationalism today is not going anywhere. And this idea of tapping into countries' culture in order to get the best solutions is one of the secrets that we ought to focus on. And that the Italians, we all know the certain things that the Italians do that are amazing. Now, let me just take, for example, I'm pulling this out, fashion, right? It's one of the things that Italians do, amazing. How do you leverage fashion in an effort to make the world a better place? And I don't have answers to that, but every country has its unique culture. And it is what is going to allow us to ultimately scale in solving global problems based on the culture of specific countries.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Avi, it's always a pleasure listening to you speak because you are one of those people that every time that I hear you, you say something new, something that makes me think. And also when I disagree, I love to disagree with you.

Avi Jorisch:

We'll have to do it more often, Rabbi Beyo.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Absolutely. I can't wait when we can again be together and share some more time together. Thank you so very much for joining us for this podcast.

Avi Jorisch:

Thank you both, and I wish you continued health. And let's hope that we all get together soon. Adrian, I look forward to meeting you in person in the not too distant future.

Adrian McIntyre:

If you enjoyed today's show, please subscribe to Conversation with the Rabbi on your favorite podcast app. You can also find the latest episodes online at ConversationWithTheRabbi.com. For all of us here at PHX.fm, I'm Adrian McIntyre. Thanks for listening, and please join us for the next Conversation with the Rabbi.

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